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d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 1997 and the Emotional Rollercoaster of Vinyl

September 26, 2011 1 comment

This d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 1997 was tasted directly after the ’97 Rosenblum Zin Sauret and oddly, it made a fitting transition, but we’ll get to the specific tasting notes in a minute. d’Arenberg is a 4th generation family wine company helmed by the unique Chester Osborn whose bottled produce is as unusual and worthy of sincere investigation as the man himself. d’Arenberg is a relatively large producer for the artisan level quality and is just as ready to sell you a ubiquitous $10-15 blend (Stump Jump, d’Arry’s Original), or a moderately priced single-vineyard offering (The Derelict), as a rare and powerful (and pricey) bottle made from 100+ year old decrepit vines, who have already lost a limb to age (The Dead Arm). While I have never met the man, never profited from the sale of any of his labels, I am an avid consumer of it, and it would be dishonest to not admit my bias. Look for the tall, skinny label that reminds you of a diver’s flag and there’s a pretty good chance, there’s some nice juice under it.

I’m listening to an awesome pile of records, which is four obsolete recorded music formats ago, for those of you under 30. I don’t know why it took me so long to set up the turntable and phono stage, particularly with the Krell CD player refusing to open its door, and yes, I tried asking nicely. I had apparently forgotten the frustration of those records that never sounded like they should have. Some albums were recorded digitally and were simply transferred to the analog format for its own sake rather than being specifically re-mastered for the process, which is why the Flaming Lips’ wonderful Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots sounds completely flat on its super cool translucent red vinyl. And I pre-ordered two consecutive Andrew Bird albums, Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha, both of which showed up literally stuck to the sleeve, as if put away wet, and have never once played clean. And then one settles into a sincerely crafted masterpiece, such as Radiohead’s Kid A (on double 10”) which just ended or the 200gram virgin vinyl re-mastered pressing of HendrixAxis Bold as Love, whose controlled chaotic left-handed genius current courses through my auditory system. Now one quickly recalls that every advancement in audio (before digital compression) was a failed attempt to sound as warm and as real as a record. Because we’re all bold as love, just ask the axis. He knows everything.

The d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings 1997, even at this age, is brooding in the glass and immediately shows copious black and spiced red fruit, cavernous depth, awesome length, and the (al)most unbearable concentration of being. Please forgive the hyperbolic alliteration, but I did warn you that I’m listening to Jimi on vinyl, and this wine really is a stunning blend of typical Australian varietals (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre), pushed to a-typical greatness. It drinks like a burly, brambly, dry-but endlessly lush, version of the previously tasted and much evolved Zin. The ’97 Ironstone Pressings is showing an unusual nose, currently dominated by red cherry, menthol, and volcanic ash. The massive fruit on the palate, after some breath, seems poured over crushed granite with hints of smoked game. Its texture is luscious and rich with an up front (non-syrupy) sweetness and a deep palate-shaking dryness before the long finish. This is a wine that I’ve followed for some time, and unlike the ’98 (which matured much more rapidly), this ’97 d’Arenberg Ironstone Pressings has finally and fully come into it’s own. I look forward to future consideration of the ’97, while getting back into my stash of ’01s and ‘02s, of that same skinny label.

St. Cosme Little James’ Basket Press NV (2011) and Dan Bern’s “The 5th Beatle”

September 18, 2011 1 comment

Having been an admirer of the wine of St. Cosme (Gigondas Valbelle, in particular) for some time, I was surprised to find out that St. Cosme bottles an unreasonably inexpensive NV table wine of unusual character: St. Cosme Little James’ Basket Press NV. As always, any true student of the game is always learning. I have to thank Daniel Posner of Grapes The Wine Co. for alerting me to the existence of this cuvée, and even more so, for selling it to me at under $10 per bottle, a wholly reasonable fee for the entry level wine of truly great winemaker (Louis Barruol). But this St. Cosme Little James Basket Press is no average ten dollar non-vintage red table wine. It is made in a solera style, meaning that in each vintage new wine is added, such that any given bottling is made up of 50% the most recent vintage, and 50% a blend of all vintages that came before; this one began in 1999. While this 100% Grenache is made up of many vintages and is bottled as a non-vintage wine, the bottling year is listed on the label, and serves as the de facto vintage, without infringing upon the labeling rules of any appellation.

I’m listening to Dan Bern singing “The 5th Beatle” from his Live in Los Angeles album. It’s one of a handful of tunes on the record that Dan has been playing for years, but had never released in a legitimate recording. And while the Live in LA rendition isn’t the very finest I’ve heard, it’s an important moment that is not only lyrically amusing, but it sums up so much of what the best of Bern’s live shows can be. Dan once feared and loathed Los Angeles, as is apparent in “Wasteland” (also included on Live from LA) from his 1997 self-titled debut. He has since moved back to the City of Angels, having contributed key songs to films like Walk Hard and Get Him to The Greek, and he seems to see less darkness in it these days. “The 5th Beatle” is a sincerely rendered comedy impressions routine wrapped up in the guise of a talking blues tune, where Dan hypothesizes what might have happened had the Beatles stayed together, only to have other artists such as Hendrix, Cobain, and Springsteen join them, over the years they never had. And while the whole notion is clearly farcical, if you are unmoved by the fantasy of John Lennon surviving the 80s, then I’m not sure we have much else to talk about.

Two minutes after cracking the screw cap, this 2011 bottling of St. Cosme Little James’ Basket Press NV is already the most interesting red wine under $10 I’ve tasted in all searchable memory. It’s medium dark ruby in the glass and is dominated by lightly floral crunchy red fruit, beneath which stews stone fruit, coffee, and pine tar. Lesser notes of cassis, baking spices, and hints of cedar add to the unusual depth of this sweet and round, if not deep, Grenache. The intermingling multiple vintages beneath the current adds layers, thin but significant, to the structure, like that of a masterfully baked mille crepes. After an hour of breathing time, the wine shows remarkable integration, and is darn near seamless. St. Comse Little James’ Basket Press NV is so good, per dollar spent, and is imported in small enough quantity that I genuinely hesitated in writing about it. After plowing through a half case, I’ve had to remove the remaining six bottles from sight and am looking forward to seeing how they age over the next few years. Future notes will most decidedly appear here on WineGeist. Stay tuned.

Dettori Bianco 2006 and Dan Bern’s Fifty Eggs, Unfiltered and Unfined

July 5, 2011 Leave a comment

An unusual off-white wine.

Tenute Dettori is best known for the unusual, rustic, and outstanding estate old vine cannonau (Grenache) they produce, most notably their oldest vine, flagship bottle that sells under Dettori Rosso. Unfortunately, their release prices have more than doubled in the last couple of vintages and I can no longer in good conscience recommend the Dettori as a $150 bottle, though it does compete favorably against other over-priced Italian reds. And had it not been one of my favorite wines in the world at around $55, I wouldn’t have taken the price increase(s) so personally. However, should you come across any remaining stock of ’01-’04 at a lower price, or should you see any overpriced ’05s showing up on close-out sales, grab what you can. That wine is serious, high alcohol, bold, brooding, bordering on monsterous stuff; and the 2001 is still aging nicely.

Murky and off-white, but quite palatable.

I’m listening to Dan Bern‘s Fifty Eggs album (1998), produced by DIY folk goddess, Ani DiFranco. Bern himself sees this album as a specific moment in time that, at last check, he still had mixed feeling about, but there are so many reasons to dig this record. From a songwriting perspective, Bern was at the height of his aggressive surrealism, which is most apparent on “One Thing Real” and “No Missing Link“, the former of which finds Bern chewing over existence and song craft with Van Gogh and Jesus Christ. The latter poses an alternately profane theory of evolution. While the comedy and philosophy are thick beneath Bern’s Dylanesque vocal tone, it’s “Oh Sister” (Not to be confused with Dylan‘s 1976 “Oh, Sister” which Andrew Bird covers on Soldier On) and “Rolling Away” which humanize the deliberately reality-challeneged storyteller. Back in LA, Dan Bern has recently been contributing songs to films such as Walk Hard and Get Him to the Greek, work for which he was genetically engineered, but he still puts on a wholly entertaining show, when he feels like touring.

All in a day's work.

Back to Dettori Bianco 2006, which is obviously neither clarified nor filtered. As pictured, in the glass, the wine is a hazy, murky, deep orange gold; looking as if the wine were 10 years older and had been cellared in a hot attic. It’s high in acid, but not sharp with it, making this wine technically food friendly, though the floating orange/brown particles of dead yeast (also the name of my new punk band), which add to its foreboding appearance, might frighten away your meal. The nose wafts powerfully of apricot liqueur. The palate is sweetly funky, undeniably weird and pops with apricot, but there’s a lingering mid-palate note of an earthy cheese that’s most of the way toward blue. This wine is a walking contradiction from first glance, smell, and taste, but its an enjoyable experience. The acid grows over time and with some more air, the wine becomes softly briny, like miso soup, with notes of caramel and yeast, crossing the sweet with savory, making Dettori Bianco its own experience. This is also the sort of wine that can vary greatly bottle to bottle, making it necessary to taste 2 or 3 of them to really get an idea of the full quality and range it possesses.